April 19, 2018 News Article

Emails on pregnant teens would take HHS 28 years to produce


The Trump administration indicated that a Freedom of Information Act request for agency emails on undocumented minors’ pregnancies can’t be fully processed until 2046, according to court documents.

Equity Forward, a watchdog group that supports abortion rights, is suing the administration for access to HHS officials’ emails concerning pregnant undocumented teens in government custody. Trump administration officials, including HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement director Scott Lloyd, blocked the abortion requests of at least seven undocumented teens last year.

Equity Forward originally filed a FOIA request in December for emails from 11 administration officials over a four-month period. The group wants all emails that contain 24 wide-ranging terms, including “pregnancy,” “abortion,” “WTF” and several apparent references to Lloyd, such as “Scott is,” “Scott said” and “from Scott.”

HHS has run searches on the terms, resulting in potentially up to 166,809 pages of communications. But the agency has not yet processed them for potential redactions over privacy and other matters that FOIA allows.

The administration proposed to process at least 500 pages by May 2 and then process at least 1,000 pages every 60 days thereafter. Equity Forward says that would take 28 years, through 2046.

Austin Evers, executive director of the government transparency group American Oversight, which represents Equity Forward, called the administration’s stance “clearly ridiculous.”

“It’s not a good faith offer in terms of a negotiation,” he said. “But we view it as a starting point and we expect to make progress and we don’t expect a court to accept a production schedule of multiple decades.”

Equity Forward and HHS were ordered to meet again to try to narrow the request.

The American Civil Liberties Union is separately suing the Trump administration on behalf of pregnant undocumented teens in the care of ORR funded shelters that have been denied abortions. A D.C. District Court judge has told the administration that it must comply with abortion requests and post notices at shelters that teens have a right to an abortion until the court reaches a verdict on the class action suit.